Our skin weathers its fair share of dehydration and stress at this time of year. So a winter skincare routine, packed full of nourishing ingredients and a squad of targeted products, is helpful for calming and restoring a dewy-fresh sheen to our withered skin.
When the temperature drops, our skin is faced with a triple threat. Arctic blasts and low humidity outdoors sap skin of moisture. It also riles up sensitive complexions, so it’s absolutely possible to have a sore, dull surface peppered with blemishes building up under crusty, dry skin.
Our hibernation tactics don’t help either, as central heating and hot baths send already dry skin into a tailspin. Factor in an often overzealous approach to exfoliation and actives, and you’re looking at a complex set of demands for your winter skincare products to tackle.
So how about we fix this? The good news is that relieving the tightness, dryness and flakiness we’re all experiencing is entirely achievable, provided you know how. So, we’ve pulled together smart tips, do-able routine strategies and product recommendations to help you build a winter skincare fortress that combats all of the above – with a little help from the experts.
1. Identify dry skin caused by the weather vs something you’re using
“Dry skin often appears dull and may get oily as the day progresses,” says facialist Teresa Tarmey. “Impaired skin, usually a result of product use, can be red and sensitive.” If you experience stinging with product application, look at what you’re using already that might be spiking your irritation and dehydration – and switch it out of your routine.
When used correctly, stimulating products such as vitamin C, pore-purging clay masks and intensive peels can be transformative marvels – the evidence is out there. But if your skin is compromised right now, pull back on the big guns and store them away for when your complexion has re-calibrated and calmed down.
2. Switch up your winter skincare stash with the right cleanser
If you have dry or dehydrated skin, over-cleansing with foaming formulas can strip skin of the crucial natural oils that help strengthen and protect the skin barrier. Instead, go gentle with a milk, oil or balm cleanser, using warm water and a soft flannel, morning and night. “Look for ingredients like aloe, glycerin, or other humectants to maintain moisture,” adds Teresa.
3. Press pause on gritty facial scrubs
It’s still important to exfoliate during the winter months as cell turnover slows down. Equally important is to find the sweet spot between eliminating roadblocks for your winter skincare and still being kind to your skin, which is dealing with unusually high levels of inflammation.
Look to gentle acids for exfoliating rather than a harsh abrasive scrub, says Dr Christine Hall, a pharmacist and aesthetic doctor, who is a fan of PHAs. “Polyhydroxyacids are bigger molecules than AHAs (such as glycolic acid), so they do not penetrate through the skin barrier as deeply but exfoliate incredibly on the skin’s surface,” she says.
Teresa, meanwhile, prefers lactic acid in the winter months: “It’s an effective-yet-gentle option, and leaves the skin smooth and glowing.”
4. Focus on your skin barrier
The skin barrier refers to the outermost layer of skin that protects against outside aggressors and seals in hydrating lipids. Needless to say, it’s especially important to fortify it during the winter months when skin yo-yos between hot and cold temperatures. “This plays havoc on the skin barrier, so avoid doing anything to your skin that will aggravate it further,” notes Dr Hall.
While serums shuttle humectants such as hyaluronic acid into the deeper layers of skin, creams rich in ceramides hydrate the top layers. “Due to their bigger molecular structure and occlusive properties, moisturizers may not penetrate as deeply as serums, so use them to ‘lock in’ the ingredients from your serum,” says Teresa.
Ceramides are lipids, or fats, that prevent water escaping through tiny cracks in our skin barrier. Interestingly, ceramides are recognized by the skin because they are naturally produced by our sebaceous glands. “When the weather gets colder, and as we age, our sebaceous glands get smaller and we produce fewer ceramides, which causes our skin to be drier,” Dr Hall notes, adding that she swears by Dr Jart’s Cermadin Skin Barrier Serum Toner for her own skin in winter. “The serum-toner hybrid combines these two steps into a rich, liquidy moisturizer, creating the perfect base for the rest of your skincare routine.”
It’s also worth scouting out products powered by niacinamide, which increases ceramide production in the skin as well tempering inflammation.
5. Look for beta-glucan in your winter skincare formulas
Few skincare ingredients can boast that they’re more effective than hyaluronic acid at plumping up thirsty skin in plummeting temperatures. But beta-glucan – a complex sugar, derived from yeast, fungi, seaweed or oats – is a good contender for the title. Like hyaluronic acid, it is a humectant that attracts water to itself and floods skin with moisture. But that is where the similarities end.
“Beta-glucan is 20% more hydrating than hyaluronic acid,” says aesthetic doctor Dr Wassim Taktouk, who recommends Skinceuticals’ Epidermal Repair to those with very dry or irritated skin at this time of year.
“In addition, we have found this ingredient also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, meaning that it will help to restore and repair the skin barrier,” he adds. “Some studies have shown that the molecules themselves link together to form an invisible barrier over the skin surface, protecting against environmental stresses.”
6. Switch to granactive retinol
Winter is typically hailed as the best time of year to start using retinol as you have less sun exposure to contend with. However, the type of retinol you lean on could mean the difference between spruced up skin and a sore, scaly complexion.
This is where granactive retinoid or hydroxypinacolone retinoate (HPR for short), is especially helpful, since it is 10 times more potent than pure retinol but it is also a lot gentler. So even sensitive skin can tackle multiple concerns including acne, pigmentation, fine lines and rough texture.
“Retinoids accelerate the growth of skin cells but some molecules are more irritating than others because this acceleration causes inflammation,” says 111Skin founder, Dr Yannis Alexandrides. “Granactive retinol is less inflammatory due to the chemical composition of the molecule,” which, unlike traditional retinol, doesn’t need a messy conversion process within the skin to boost cell turnover.
The 111Skin Black Diamond Retinol Oil is powered by a blend of retinol and granactive retinoid, both of which are suspended in eight natural oils as an added insurance policy against dryness. Also good is the Elizabeth Arden Retinol + HPR Ceramide Rapid Skin-Renewing Water Cream, which combines retinol and granactive retinoid with barrier-boosting ceramides.
7. Winter skincare hack: Only apply hyaluronic acid to damp skin
Hyaluronic acid is undoubtedly an OG hydrator. Applied topically, a single gram can hold up to six litres of water so you can see why the beauty world is so obsessed with it. But there is one caveat.
Hyaluronic acid, by nature, pulls moisture into the skin. However, if it is applied to dry skin in a dry climate like a heated bathroom, your hardworking hyaluronic acid serum may backfire. “You could actually be making your skin drier,” warns aesthetic doctor, Dr Sophie Shotter. “Hyaluronic acid will draw moisture from wherever it can find it to hydrate the surface of your face, including the deeper layers of your skin if there is no humidity in the air.”
An easy solution is to create TikTok’s popular “hydration sandwich”. After cleansing, use a face mist laced with added emollients such as Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte’s Magic Hydrator Mist. Apply your hyaluronic acid serum to damp skin so it has a reserve of moisture to draw from and then slather on a moisturiser rich in ceramides to prevent that moisture from escaping.
8. Avoid water-based gel formulas
Dewy, water-based moisturisers are ideal in summer because they feel weightless and cooling on the skin. But in the same way that water freezes on a windscreen in winter, gel formulas with a high water content can freeze on the surface of the skin and the consequences appear in the form of broken capillaries.
Further insurance against flaky skin comes in the form of moisturisers powered by oils such as argan oil or fatty acids found in shea butter, which are typically richer and cosset the skin in an occlusive blanket of cream. Murad’s new Cellular Hydration Barrier Repair Cream is set to make waves as it is laced with fatty acids from bilberry omegas and promises to lock in barrier hydration for 24 hours.
9. Use a layering technique to make the most of your winter skincare routine
Key to your winter skincare strategy is layering products correctly. “If you’re layering clothing, layer your skincare – you need a skincare ‘wardrobe’ at this time of year more than any other,” says Caroline Hirons, skincare expert and founder of Skin Rocks.
“Cleanse, tone (acid/mist or both), serum, oil, cream, SPF,” she continues. “How much and when you use all of these depends on your skin, but a general rule of thumb is to start with ‘less is more’ and, if your skin is still absorbing the product, keep going.” In other words, start with more watery textures as they won’t be able to penetrate a layer of thick moisturiser.
There are two things to be aware of, though. SPF is always the last product you apply in the morning and layering silicone products can be problematic “as they don’t always play well together and have the potential to ‘peel’ or ‘roll’, which feels grim,” says Caroline.
Still tempted to load on one thick layer of rich cream for that thirsty hit? “If you apply a generous amount to the skin at once, you might feel the moisture immediately, but it takes a long time for the skin’s fibrous structure to absorb it all efficiently,” explains Leah Lee, head of global education for Dr.Jart+. “However, when using a layering technique, you can pace out each step and allow for the beneficial ingredients to absorb, plus it helps strengthen your skin barrier.”
10. Implement the 3-minute rule
“As appealing as it is to sink into a steaming bath, water that is too hot can strip the skin’s natural oils, leaving it feeling dry,” says Kim Cochrane, head of education at Wildsmith Skin. “I would suggest opting for a lukewarm bath instead. Just 10 minutes of soaking time is enough time for your body temperature to rise.”
There is also a three-minute window to apply your body lotion afterwards – wait any longer and moisture starts evaporating from the skin. Put simply, slather your cream onto damp skin as it will absorb more readily and do so with the bathroom door closed to trap the hydrating steam.
11. Get a professional opinion on winter skincare
If your winter skin woes are bordering on unbearable and emotionally disruptive, it could be reassuring to show your face to a pro for a really good inspection or try one of these virtual skin consultation services.
La Roche-Posay offers a free 15-minute online consultation with one of its brand experts. GLAMOUR contributor Dija Ayodele is the founder of West Room Aesthetics and offers her own one-hour Skin Health Consultation (£180), during which you’ll get her incredible insights plus personalised digital notes, as well as product suggestions. “Nothing beats professional bespoke skincare advice tailored to your individual skin and concerns, says Dija. “In the long run, it saves you time, money and heartache.”
Originally published in Glamourmagazine.co.uk